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Adrenaline On Wheels
Published Monday, March 09, 2009 6:00 PM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
paul.zoeller@mac.com
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The women slowly file into the skating rink dressed in business suits and work attire. As they change out of their street clothes, they talk about work and family. Soon the fishnet stockings, tank tops and elbow pads are on and the conversations change drastically. Once the transformation is complete, working class women, moms and college students turn into the rough and tough women of the Lowcountry High Rollers, a new roller derby team in Charleston.

The sport of roller derby started in the 1930s as a marathon skating event and eventually evolved into a race between two teams. The sport was first televised in the 40s and grew in popularity through the 60s. Revived a couple of years ago, teams have sprung up across the nation including a couple in South Carolina.


Angella Blanton, aka Judas Priestess, attempts to pass the pack of skaters on the outside during a scrimmage at Hot Wheels Skating Center in Charleston.

Roller Derby is an adrenaline pumping hard hitting sport on wheels. Two teams of five skaters travel around an oval track during a race called a 'jam.' The objective is to propel one teammate, the 'jammer,' past opponents which gives the team points. Basically the players bang and hit and push each other to get their jammer forward and keep the other jammer back.


Wendy Jernigan, aka Red Dread, restaurant manager living in Charleston, one of the founders of the Lowcountry High Rollers.

Wendy Jernigan, also known as Red Dread, lived in Austin, Texas, a hotspot for roller derby, and soon was hooked on the sport. After relocating to Charleston for work, she realized no teams were located in the area. Teams exist in Myrtle Beach and Columbia but not in Charleston. She put an ad up looking for others who shared her desire. Soon, a small group of women gathered together every week to learn all about the sport of roller derby.


Skaters decorate helmets to fit their style.

Jernigan said her story is like many in the group. She loved skating growing up but outgrew her favorite pastime. With no outlet for her sport she quit skating until she found roller derby. At first she was skeptical thinking roller derby was for rough and tough women but not her. Soon she realized others just like her played and she not only had that outlet but made new friends.


Angella Blanton, aka Judas Priestess, a sailor living in Charleston that loves skating and being tough.

Now she says roller derby is more than an outlet for exercise but has turned into a business. Roller derby teams are player-owned and Jernigan puts a lot of time into ensuring the success of her team.


Judas Priestess and Red Dread look over notes during scrimmages.

Beyond the skating, the sport is also an outlet for women's alter egos to blossom. They dress in fishnets stockings and miniskirts and wear helmets plastered with stickers. They have nicknames like Judas Priestess, B. Elsie Bub and Shells Bells. They also can pick any number to be unlike other sports which allow players to have certain numbers according to the position they play, like football.

Judas Priestess, for example picked 1432 a.d. which is the date Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.


Coach Duck Reynolds, customer service rep living in Mount Pleasant, once a speed skater

Roller Derby is serious business though. Just ask coach Duck Reynolds. A former speed skater, he wanted to be involved in skating and discovered the team and volunteered to coach the women. He brought a lot of knowledge but had to learn all about the sport, rules and technique, and be able to impart that knowledge to the players. Also a member of the Holy City Beard & Moustache Society, Duck lets the facial hair go.

On one Tuesday evening coach, skaters and helpers gathered at Hot Wheels Skating Center to practice. Almost like a scene from the movie 'Dodgeball', skaters raced around an oval track as others threw balls at them, the objective was to not get hit. Exercises like that help the players be agile on the skates.


Skaters listen to Duck before scrimmage begins.

They soon were racing around the oval, banging and pushing into each other as they skated. Players went flying out of bounds and bouncing off the floor before trying to get back up and avoid being run over.


Knee-high socks, fishnet stockings and kneepads are common attire for skaters.

The bouts would last only a couple of minutes before the players would line the walls of the rink for water and some coaching. While along the wall, you could see the contrast in personalities of the players as they stood and conversed. The torn fishnets, crazy stickers or shirts with bold statements, each player had their own look.


April Shove, aka B. Elsie Bub, bar manager living in Mount Pleasant who likes to knock down girls.

Jernigan said some of the girls were quick to pick up the sport. Some were more timid and one didn't even want to play but just help out. All of them skate and compete now she said.

Whether on the bench or on the track, the skaters push and encourage each other. Since the team is composed mostly of rookie players, everyone has to push each other to get better.


Girls watch as others race around the track during scrimmages.

When asked why they compete, many said for exercise while others pointed to a desire to play a physical sport. Stephanie Tipper said she always wanted to play football when she was younger but she had two strikes against her- gender and size. Now she gets to play a physical sport; on skates.


Stephanie Tipper, marketing promotions/model living in Folly Beach who likes contact sports.

Jernigan said many of the women like to dress up and become someone else. Some are tough and some are sexy and cute, Jernigan said it is just up to them.

Every day they dress for work either at home or the office and do the same thing, she said, this is an outlet to explore the other side of their personality.


Girls compare bruises after scrimmage.

If you are interested, the women play their first home game March 22 at Omar Shrine Temple in Mount Pleasant. More information is available on their website http://www.myspace.com/lowcountryhighrollers

Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at paul.zoeller@mac.com.


Comments (5)

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AWESOME PHOTOGRAPHY
Wednesday, April 15, 2009 1:21 AM

i loved reading the commentary on each photo - but more importantly - i loved the photography! it was really nice. looks very professional, have no doubt that it isn't! great job guys. GRAY (Greenville Derby Dames)

Posted by: GRAY TAYLOR
It was not a serious post
Thursday, March 12, 2009 6:26 PM

I just remember watching it in the eighties. The only team I could remember was the Thunderbirds. Who really cares who won or lost in roller derby anyway? It's never been a relevant mainstream sport score-wise. It was fun to watch because they used to kick the crap out of each other. For me, it was nothing more.

Posted by:
Or not...
Thursday, March 12, 2009 4:45 PM

@ the anonymous poster who said the T-Birds rule: Back in November 2004, the distaff squad of the T-Birds took on a new school women's team from Phoenix in an unscripted game. The T-Birds lost it 72-6.

Posted by: Tim
Great pictures
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 1:49 AM

but they're just wannabe LA Thunderbirds. Thunderbirds rule!

Posted by:
~Ah Yeah Roller Girls~
Tuesday, March 10, 2009 10:34 PM

Paul these pictures are beautiful! You truly have an eye for beautiful shots! Great job! We want more!

Posted by: Elizabeth Pike


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